It feels like a fool’s errand to try and name a favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie. How can it be narrowed to just one? Certainly, most wouldn’t have to look further than the greatest hits: “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Vertigo,” and so forth. Over the course of his career, Hitchcock amassed 71 directing credits, including his movies, TV shows and specials. His filmography is a treasure trove for any film fanatic.
Even more than the movies themselves, Hitchcock has provided some of the most iconic scenes in film history. Any introductory Film 101 class will have included a dissection of the “Psycho” shower scene as part of the curriculum. Released in 1960 and controversial for the violence depicted, the shower scene defied what a movie could do for future generations of filmmakers. As a masterclass in editing and suspense, the shower scene is filmmaking precision at its finest. Furthermore, Hitchcock took a narrative leap (Spoilers ahead) in killing off the main character early in the film.
It doesn’t stop at “Psycho.” The incredible use of framing in “North by Northwest” shows Hitchcock’s skill at building tension. Cary Grant’s character steps off a bus on to a desolate road surrounded by cornfields. Moments later, he notices a crop duster in the distance and thinks nothing of it until it gets closer and closer. Hitchcock creates a game of Tag between Grant and the plane within one scene so beautifully. There’s no score used in the scene, just the sound of the plane or the rustling of the cornstalks as Grant frantically runs through them, creating a sense of isolation in a wide-open space.
“Rear Window” features on the single-best moments in any Hitchcock film. James Stewart’s character spends the movie suspicious of his neighbor (played by Raymond Burr), which eventually leads to a showdown between the two characters. The way the scene escalates is a demonstration of why Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense.
It’s easy to play the hits with Hitchcock because he has crafted so many impeccably made movies. If you dig into his work, movies like “Suspicion” and “Notorious” demonstrated Hitchcock’s character exchanges while setting up the story around them. He truly had a rare gift of making one scene a singular work of art.